Joe Kjellander has traveled to the moon and back in a cardboard refrigerator box, battled Romulan spacecraft from the rusted seat of an abandoned hay rake, and helped his childhood friend, Doug, construct a backyard force field. Later in life, he attended the University of Iowa where he was editor of the Hawkeye Engineer magazine, a student publication. After graduating with a BS degree in Industrial Engineering, Joe took a manufacturing engineer position with Motorola’s Cellular Subscriber Division when the cellular phone industry was in its infancy, and he has remained with the company throughout his career. Joe and Gregg Hagen, his partner of 13 years, live in the Historic District of Elgin, Illinois in an 1872 Italianate home they have restored. He is currently taking flight lessons to obtain a Sport Pilot Certificate and shares his new pilot experiences here at Lofty Ambitions.
CLEAR PROP! LEARNING TO FLY AT AGE 43
“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
Early this spring, I got the itch to fly. I had considered flying lessons in years past, but there were always other priorities. This year, though, it was time to make it happen. After some internet research, I decided to pursue a Sport Pilot certificate and found a small operation at DuPage Airport that gave lessons in an Allegro 2000 Light Sport Aircraft (LSA). I placed a phone call and was scheduled for a Friday afternoon introductory flight.
My introductory flight in the Allegro was incredible. It began with a pre-flight inspection of the engine compartment and fluid levels, tires, fuselage, and control surfaces. Then my instructor and I climbed into the cockpit and buckled our seat belts. After yelling, “Clear prop!” he flipped the magneto switches to ON and turned the key. With a momentary whir from the starter and a hearty harrumph from the 80 horsepower Rotax engine, the propeller was spinning, and we were on the taxiway to Runway 33. When the tower gave us clearance for take-off, my instructor positioned the plane over the centerline of the runway and advanced the throttle to maximum. I was grinning ear to ear as we gained speed, rotated, and began climbing away from the ground.
From the Plexiglass cockpit, the view outside was spectacular. It was like sitting in a flying chair. As the plane banked to the left and right, I had the feeling I might slip off the seat and fall out of the plane! The fear of falling soon faded, and it was time to learn the basics of flight. The instructor gave me control of the stick and rudder pedals, and we practiced coordinated turns, ascents, descents, and straight and level flight. After an hour of instruction, I was mentally exhausted, and my hand ached from the death grip I had on the stick. My heart, however, was still racing from the exhilaration, and I was looking forward with excitement to a summer of flight lessons.
My CFI (certificated flight instructor) this summer was Matt Moser, a straight-A graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and former instructor there. I hadn’t put much thought into selecting a CFI, but very quickly realized how fortunate I was to have been paired with someone of such impressive qualifications. Matt has done a great job teaching me to fly, starting in April with slow flight and stall recovery, ground reference maneuvers, traffic patterns, take-offs and landings, and communications, leading up to my solo flight in late July.
When a student pilot flies solo for the first time, it’s a big deal. It means your instructor has confidence in your ability to fly the plane safely. The first solo flight consists of three sets of take-offs and landings in the pattern; you fly a rectangular course around the runway and do not leave the airport. After the solo, it is a tradition for the CFI to cut a big piece of cloth from the back of the student’s shirt and add some graffiti to mark the special occasion. I felt sort of bad for Matt, because the back of my shirt was soaked in perspiration. And I’m sure Matt felt equally bad that he was cutting up one of my favorite t-shirts.
Now I am approaching the end of my flight instruction. We have been working on short field and soft field landings, navigation, and cross-country flights. Soon I will do a solo cross-country flight and start preparing for the examiner check ride. If things go as planned, I will have my sport pilot certificate by the end of the year. Hey, does anyone want to go flying with me?